Venezuela - part 1
We arrived perfectly on time in a hot Caracas (31
degrees C). Customs and luggage went smoothly. Then we
decided not to go directly in the big unknown city, but
to go to a closer beach town, Macuto. Off course I
didn't read my South American Handbook completely
about the hurricane that struck Venezuela 2 years
ago... We arrived with a much too expensively paid
taxi in a village that didn't really look like a
village anymore. There were no beaches anymore, and
just few hotels. Luckily we found one, with a nice
big swimming pool outside, and a guard with shotgun at
the entrance of the hotel. We went to sleep early, not
realizing yet that we arrived in another continent.
The next day we got up early for a local breakfast,
fried banana, toast with marmalade and salted butter,
and a big merengada (juice, ice and milk all shaked
up). Afterwards we relaxed at the pool for some hours,
planning the next days of the trip. At 1 pm we left
for Caracas city in the typical local transport
'carrito', a minibus which is very basic, an open door
as main air ventilation system and sometimes music!
After an hour we arrived in the city, completely
shaked. From there the metro took us 10 minutes to
Sabana Grande, the nicest zone of Caracas, with all
types of hotels, bars, shops. In the beginning we
where a little bit scared for the big city but the
locals are so friendly and helpfully that you have to
love these people.
We found a cheap brothel (rooms for short stay couples
available), for only 10.000 Bs (1$=739 Bs). Not very
clean, no running water (we found out later) but
luckily not too noisy. In the afternoon and evening we
explored this neighbourhood, in the evening watched
the match Brazil-Venezuela with some Polar beer, the
Venezuelans most popular. We went sleeping early, but
didn't sleep that well.
This morning we got up early to go to the historic
centre. Also there's a lot of shops and markets on the
streets. The city is really alive, with so many people
on the street, music everywhere, street vendors with
food, drinks, and so many other things (from strings
to shakers to pokemon stuff). We visited most of the
historic and colonial buildings and the grave of Simon
Bolivar, the 'libertador'. We ate a type of hotdog
with 'pernill' meat (we don't know what it is for
sure) but it tasted delicious. With it a nice Hit,
which is the local branding name for Fanta. Every time
we where looking in the guide book somebody offered to
help us. The ones who hear us talking mostly think we
are Germans (Sofie still has some blond in her hair),
some see us as Americanos :-(
Now we are back in Sabana grande going for some dinner
and an early sleep in the hooker house again.
Tomorrow we are leaving for a piece of beautiful
Caribbean coast line in the neighbourhood of Puerto
Columbia, near Maracay. This time we checked the books
We will probably stay until the weekend and then move
on to the Llanos or further northwest to some more
white sand beaches.
The fact that Sofie speaks excellent Spanish (and me
some moderate) helps a lot. The pronunciation of the
locals is quite difficult but we manage to understand
most of it. The people appreciate it a lot that we
speak Spanish and even tell us we speak it good (they
probably mean Sofie).
16/11/2001 - To Puerto Columbia
We left early with the metro to the bus terminal in Caracas. For the first time we had running water in the hooker house so we enjoyed the cold shower as if it was the best one in years. The bus to Maracay went smoothly and we were lucky to have an immediate connection to Puerto Columbia. The trip took us 2 hours through the spectacular Henri Pittier National Park, crossing a pass at 1830 meters. We arrived at the fishing village around midday and found a nice sleeping place at the sea. We drank a freshly made juice from a juice bar, owned by a crazy old woman. We agreed to meet her sun in law the next morning to bring us to a remote beach by 'lancha', a small fisher boat. Then we went to the 'Playa Grande', a beautiful white sand beach with palm trees, coconuts and clear blue green water... When the sun started falling over the beach, we met Flo and Ully, a German couple from Bavaria. They decided to go with us the next day to the remote beach and share the boat to lower the price. In the evening we ate delicious fish and went sleeping early (after some beers), for the first time under our mosquito net (too much biting mosquitoes).
17/11/2001 - Cepe beach
We had cheese empanadas and a coffee for lunch at the old ladies juice bar. Together with Flo and Ully and a Venezuelan couple we entered the lancha for a half hour trip to the remote beach of Cepe. Ully and me almost had problems keeping the breakfast inside but finally we managed to get complete and well to the beautiful Cepe beach. There were more people and boats then we expected but to Sofie and me it still looked like paradise. For a Saturday it was better to be here than on a crowded Playa Grande... We turned back 5 hours later, brown (maybe red is a better word), happy and hungry. Sofie and me decided to eat budget and ended up between the locals eating hamburger (not comparable to Mac D) and watching the game ('beisbol'). A few beers in the nice restaurant-bar ended a very nice day.
18/11/2001 - Ully and Flo
We met with Flo and Ully at their hotel to walk to another remote beach (1 hour). Because of our red colour (all of us) and the lack of shadow at the remote beach we decided to be smart and go to the Playa Grande. I stayed mostly in the shadow while Sofie perfectionated her penguin style of wave sliding. With our Bavarian friends we decided to go eating in a nice and friendly fish restaurant where Sofie and me had a few beers already the days before. The waiter looks a little bit like Patrick Kluivert and was very keen to learn some more words in German (Dutch seemed to be of no importance...). We had a great evening, great company, great food and the best piña colada we ever had. We saluted our new friends Ully and Flo and went sleeping after 11pm, for the first time this trip !
19/11/2001 - Bus for Mérida
For a few hours we went to the Playa Granda to get some last sun and sea for some time. At midday we left Puerto Columbia for Maracay in an overcrowded carito. In Maracay bus terminal we found the recommended Expresos Mérida immediately and reserved a ticket for the night bus. Luckily we could leave our luggage their to get to town for changing travellers checks and food. At 8 pm we left in a freezing bus. The driver puts the airco so cold that you best take a sleeping bag or warm clothes with you. Luckily we knew this and packed our small backpack with the correct stuff.
20/11/2001 - Mérida
We arrived in the morning, without sleeping very well, but happy. The woman of the tourist office was really friendly and funny and her sun gave us a ride to the center. After half an hour of looking around we found a room for only 7000 Bs in hotel Italia. Very basic but a lot of backpackers and cheap! We relaxed from the trip and wandered around in this nice student town. We booked a trip to the Llanos, planned for Saturday, but this would change later. We went sleeping (as usual) early.
21/11/2001 - Thermales Tabay
After a quick breakfast we too a carrito to Tabay. We got of at the gas station where a jeep drove us to the entrance of the 'Thermales'. There we enjoyed healthy baths and sauna (in the middle of nature) originating from a natural hot spring. Very relaxing and purifying. When we came back in the hotel a message was waiting that already the next day we could go on the 4 day Llanos tour. We prepared (buying sun-block and hats) and went to the briefing. It is going to be great and spectacular, read it next week on www.tripping.be .
A 4 day 'safari' in Los Llanos, including, horse riding, rafting, piranhas fishing, spotting animals like anaconda, river dolphin, monkeys, caimans, birds and lot more.
A lot of greetings to Flo and Ully. We had a great time with you and hope the rest of your trip went great too.
At 6:45 am the van of Arassari Trek picked us up at the hotel. We started driving up the Andes and stopped after an hour for a typical breakfast. A big cup of black coffee woke me up (I miss the Italian coffee now ...), so I could enjoy the view during the spectacular ride. We stopped again at +-3600 meters of altitude, for as short break. From there on we drove downhill until we arrived at the city of Barinas, the gate to the Llanos.
At the airport we picked up 6 more peoples (Americans) so the bus got quite crowded. Luckily a nice Swiss couple (Sandra and Silvio) joined us in the back of the van. We started driving again for a few hours while the heat was getting to more then 30 degrees. We had lunch in a steakhouse (guess what we ate ?). Finally after 5 hours and a lot of water we arrived at the river Apure. Our home base for the 1st night was in San Vicente, at the river side. Luckily the hammocks had mosquito nets as well because the insects started coming to close when the sun started downing. Just before dusk we left on a small boat (canoe with motor), our skin protected with DET and with a flashlight at hand. Only 15 minutes later the boat already slowed down. In the light of a beautiful sunset we saw some river dolphin swimming around. We could only see his back touching the surface of the water sometimes. Too bad, but they were not in the mood of jumping.
By the time we reached a very small branch of the river, the sun had disappeared completely and we could start for the real animal search. At the turn I spotted some yellow eyes in the bushes (Maglites are great). The boat couldn't turn so Roger, the tour guide decided to check it on the way back. Roger explained how you can spot, and paralyze animals. Red eyes are caymans, yellow are snakes... Now our guide Roger came in action, real action. Using the flash light to paralyze the Caymans, he moves closer and closer and closer ... And then, snap, he jumps in the bushes, almost falling of the boat, an he has one in his hands. It was not a huge cayman but some people in the boat were not that happy of having a Cayman in the boat. Luckily these animals are quite smart so they play dead when they think they are in danger. So we passed the Cayman around in the boat (to the ones who wanted to hold him) and released it again. We saw more Caymans (a lot), birds, noises from the forest, but too bad, we couldn't find a big boa or anaconda.
On the way back we stopped at the yellow snake eyes and with a big catch we were lucky again. Roger had a small tree anaconda in his hand, in the boat. Now the people in the back of the boat were not so happy. We passed the snake, carefully holding your fingers behind the head. Even for a small (2 years old) tree boa, it had a lot of grip around my arm, and I'll surely remember that a snake does not smell good. When Sofie wanted to pass the snake further to the back of the boat, some almost jumped out of the boat (nice Swiss girls seem to be scared of snakes). We let the snake go and continued our trip back to the sleeping place. Roger suddenly spotted another animal. We didn't see it until he was so close that he could just lift it from the tree. He caught a big Iguana. While doing it, he almost fell of the boat, and took some scratches on his arms. Nice colors and an amazingly long tail, and he could swim too!
So after an amazing tour of two and a half hour with the boat and our jumping and divingtour guide Roger, we arrived at the sleeping place. After a nice shower, good food and some necessary beer, we tucked into the hammocks for a hopefully mosquito free night.
Although no mosquitos entered the net, I had problems sleeping. I think you have to get used sleeping like a banana in a hammock, especially if you are a belly sleeper...
Breakfast and a big black coffee kind of woke me up. We took the boat again for a trip to the middle of nowhere, to be exactly, to a big buffalo ranch only reachable by river or by private plane. Me and Sofie sat in front and after spotting some more river dolphins (not jumy either) some dark clouds and raindrops threatened to make it a fun trip (we probably were the only ones in the boat who had good raincoats at hand... But the rain stayed away and made place for a hot burning sun. Luckily we bought some hats a few days before. In the meanwhile we spotted numerous birds, different ibises, snakebird, parrots, vulgars, ... The boat man stopped the boat under a big tree, housed by a family of red howler monkeys ! The leading male was a little bit agitated at the beginning but then saw we where only tourist, and thus no competition for him. The rest of the family was enjoying a lazy noon.
After a trip of 3 hours we arrived at the landing sot. Two jeeps where waiting and took us in a wild and dusty ride (25 minutes) to the ranch. There we put our bags in our sleeping place and enjoyed a nice open air shower and some rest. After lunch we prepared for horse riding ! We did arrive in cowboy land (llaneros land). The ranch has 3000 to 5000 buffalos, some 100 horses, and about 80 llaneros working there all year round. The horse trip was probably the best part of our South American adventures until now for Sofie. I must say that my ass and legs felt differently ... The local llaneros already offered Sofie a job and a second horse trip while I was putting my ass under the open air shower again. I was broken and definitely needed a beer to cool off. We started laying some card games with Joanne and Chris, a nice and funny American couple, and the nice Swiss Sandra and Silvio.
After dinner in Don Ramons ranch we continued our games but went sleeping when too many bugs started bothering us. Luckily a bunch of frogs was guarding the toilet door and window, and some bets the outside and inside of the house. This time I chose a much longer and flat hammock.
Sofie and Sandra took the sympathy of Don Ramon and he promised them a horse ride back to the river in stead of the dusty and shocking jeep ride. Before breakfast we could go buffalo milking but me and Sofie decided to get up slowly. After a great breakfast some Americans put their ass on a slowly moving buffalo, while Sofie and Sandra left (with a big smile on their face) on the horses. At the river we did some pirhana fishing which is quite easy to do. Put some meat on a hook, put it in the water. If there are piranhas close they start eating the meat, pull up the hook quickly and you probably got one. We left downstream for 2 hours in a hot sun. We ate at our 1 night house and then left with all our stuff back to the Andes. We arrived around 5:30 pm at a nice location in the mountains. Our transport u to the sleeping place was a 51 year old truck. Amazingly it worked.
Now we where in the middle of rain forest like vegetation, which means less snakes (nice Swiss girl very happy) but a lot of spiders (Swiss guy and Sofie unhappy). We put on the bathing suits and a big air filled tire and took a 10 minute walk to the river. We 'tubbed' down for 20 minutes to stop exactly in front of our sleeping place. During changing the clothes Chris noticed a moving spot on his leg. Roger came to rescue and advised everybody to check for ticks. I had two but Roger took them off smoothly and painlessly
After dinner we started emptying the last beers and the bottles of rum Roger had ready. We had a great evening and learned so many drinking games (with cards) from Chris and Joanne, that at the end of the evening (1 am) the rum bottles were empty, but we were quite full of it. This would be the best sleeping night ...
It was a little bit difficult to get up, and the hangover I was afraid of stayed away. A big breakfast and then to the river again, with the old truck this time. The water was already too low to do rafting, so we did a long tubbing ride. About two hours later we arrived back home. Some people were feeling cold because it took so long, but me and Sofie enjoyed every minute of it. Really nice, with the hills and nature around you.
Another tick check, lunch and that was it. A big ride home was to fill the rest of the day. In Barinas most people got out to take a plane. We saluted our new friends Sandra and Silvio. Then back in the bus, with Joanne and Chris.
We arrived just before 9 m, very tired but satisfied. Back in the hotel we took room 31. A long hot shower and then a tasteful pasta in La Mamma restaurant concluded our four day adventure.
We will relax a few days and then prepare to go to Columbia.
Greetings to all on the Llanos trip, especially Sandra and Silvio, Joanne and Chris, and for sure our great guide 'Bird man' Roger.
27/11/2001 Mountain hike
We decided to relax some time from the Llanos trip and to plan for Colombia. We got the advice to go via Maracaibo. Because Joanne and Chris (the nice American couple we met on the Llanos trip) invited us over it seemed perfect to go there first and rest a day. So on the 27th we wanted a small hike in the mountains to be back on time in Merida for the evening bus to Maracaibo. But our trip from La Culata to the shelter of Las Nevadas took more hours and a lot more energy then we anticipated. We arrived exhausted after 4 hours at the shelter. Nothing to do there except for putting our warmest clothes. The skies turned grey and before we knew it we were in the clouds and a very cold rain. Luckily we had the correct clothing in our backpacks and this was the perfect way to test our waterproof jackets and pants. They worked! We arrived a few hours later down at La Culata again and waited for the 'porpuesto' minibus for about an hour to go back. We arrived late so the plans for leaving the same night were put away quickly. A hot shower and good pasta later we were already in bed.
We packed our bags and did some shopping for the trip. In the evening we took the night bus to Maracaibo. Back in the fridge again for an 8-hour ride to Venezuela's oil capital.
29/11/2001 Maracaibo - Chris and Joanne
We arrived early and waited in the terminal for a while before taking a cab to Chris and Joanne's house at 5.30am. It was not that far so we were too early to ring the bell. Luckily there was Luis, the concierge, who let us in and even offered us a coffee. At 6.30 we rang the bell and a very hyper active (or only half awake?) Joanne let us in and showed all the things we needed or could use in the house. They then left for work (they both teach), and we ate some breakfast and then watched a movie. Afterwards we took some sleep. For lunch we had a good omelette and toast, but my stomach was complaining. The next few hours I spent more on the toilet then in the living room. I took some medication (antibiotics, following the doctors scheme on diarrhoea they gave us before leaving). In the meanwhile I got a nice fever as well. So I took some aspirin. But when Chris and Joanne came back, we were not much fun for them. They planned to go for the swimming pool and gym with us, but I preferred not to move to far away from the toilet. I went to my bed before 5 pm and didn't come out until the next morning. Too bad, we planned to have some rum and card games and fun with the nice Americans, but instead we got diarrhoea and fever and no fun at all. Luckily Chris and Joanne were so great that we could stay another day, hopefully more active and healthy.
30/11/2001 Maracaibo day 2
I slept all night until 8 something. I was feeling a little bit dizzy but better. Breakfast was not much and Sofie left for town, but I stayed in the couch, reading a book about jihad (by Tom Carew) that I got as a present from a nice Belgian guy from Kortrijk. For lunch we had some pasta, with little sauce for me, and then some more rest. At 4 o'clock Chris and Joanne came back and we went to the swimming pool. Too bad but the gym was closed for painting (who is so stupid to paint on a Friday evening during opening hours?) so we stayed in the pool for about an hour. I was feeling a lot better and we invited Chris and Joanne for diner. We had nice pasta at an Italian and then they bought us a delicious ice cream. After we watched some photos and I ended up with Chris playing Texas Holden poker until late at night.